Government must allow coronavirus-struck restaurants to reopen: Former McDonald’s USA CEO
Former McDonald’s USA CEO Ed Rensi argues government should allow restaurants to reopen amid coronavirus and prove they’re capable of doing it safely.
As U.S. businesses reopen, worried workers and their advocates are borrowing a legal strategy commonly used to shut down rowdy topless bars to try and force employers to strengthen protection against further spread of the coronavirus.
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Workers and their families at McDonald's Corp's Chicago restaurants have filed a class-action lawsuit against the fast-food chain that does not seek money for sick staff, but compliance with health guidance such as providing clean face masks.
The strategy was unsuccessful against a meatpacking plant but experts said it could work against McDonald's and other companies, and a business group warned about a flood of cases.
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"The damage done by inadequate safety practices is not confined to the walls of a restaurant but instead has broader public health consequences," Tuesday's lawsuit said.
Like an April lawsuit against a meatpacking plant, the case targets McDonald's as a public nuisance, a legal strategy previously used to shutter strip clubs and the famed Limelight nightclub in Manhattan.
Typically, workplace safety is a matter for the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which has the authority to inspect businesses and issue citations. By focusing on community health, the lawsuit attempts to move outside OSHA's jurisdiction and into the courts.
McDonald's workers around the country have protested and demanded safety gear.
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In Chicago, workers filed at least four complaints with OSHA, but the agency declined to inspect work sites, according to the lawsuit.
OSHA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Unions have criticized the agency for lax enforcement and failing to issue mandatory standards for businesses to stem the spread of COVID-19.
"When you don't have an assertive OSHA you get these creative approaches," said Michael Duff, a professor at the University of Wyoming College of Law.
McDonald's called the allegations inaccurate. The company criticized the SEIU service union that is supporting the plaintiffs and said the chain has issued a 59-page guide its restaurants must follow to protect staff and customers.